A pilgrimage route in northern Spain goes from the saint’s hometown to the place in which he discovered his calling.
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St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, was born in Caleruega (a relatively small town one hour south of Burgos) in the late 12th century, and lived there until he was seven years old. His parents then sent him to study with his uncle Gonzalo de Aza, who was the archpriest of Gumiel de Izán. There, Dominic discovered his priestly calling, eventually studying theology in Palencia, and being ordained a priest at Osma. All these locations make up the Camino de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, a pilgrimage route in northern Spain that can also extend, through France, all the way to the Basilica of St. Dominic in Bologna, where his remains are preserved in the famed Arca di San Domenico. A shorter, more popular route that can be covered in less time goes from his hometown, Caleruega, to Gumiel de Izán.
Local traditions claim that, as a child, St. Dominic walked all the way from Caleruega to Gumiel de Izán, crossing the villages of Valdeande, Tubilla del Lago, and Villalbilla de Gumiel. This route is properly signposted so that pilgrims can easily follow the footsteps of the Spanish saint while enjoying the beauty of a unique landscape, visiting towns that still preserve their original medieval charm.
Caleruega, where the Camino de Santo Domingo begins, is considered one of the most beautiful towns in northern Spain, and is also part of the famous Caminos del Cid Route – Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (El Cid Campeador) passed through it on his way to exile. Pilgrims from all over the world come here to visit St. Dominic’s hometown.
Dominic was baptized in Caleruega’s exquisitely sober Romanesque Church of San Sebastián. The baptismal font was later transferred by King Alfonso X “the Wise” (who was related to St. Dominic’s family) to a Dominican nunnery for safekeeping. From there, it was sent to its final destination: the Monastery of Santo Domingo El Real, in Madrid. Members of the Spanish Royal House are all baptized in this font.
Caleruega also has a Royal Monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzmán of its own. It is, indeed, one of the emblematic places on this route. King Alfonso X had a church built in 1266 (some 40 years after Dominic’s death) in the same place where Dominic’s brother, Blessed Manés de Guzmán, had built a chapel. Years later, the manor house was transformed into a monastery. The daughter of Alfonso X, Leonor de Castilla, is buried there.
If Caleruega is part of the Camino del Cid, Gumiel de Izán, where St. Dominic began his studies, is an important stop in the Ribera del Duero wine route. In its main square, one finds the impressive Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and, to its left, the house where Dominic lived as a child under the care of his uncle, from 1180-1185. The Monastery of Santa María de la Vid, where Dominic was sent before going to study in Valencia, is the place where he received the holy orders. A statue of the saint, wearing the habit of a Premonstratensian canon, greets the pilgrim once inside the monastery, which today belongs to the Augustinians.